The pregame tradition at nearly all levels of baseball into the 1980s was for the home team to take batting practice, the visitors to take BP, the home team to come back out for a full round of “infield,’’ ground balls, turning double plays, and the visitors would come back to do the same.
“We do all of that during batting practice now,’’ Gardenhire said. “In fact, the managers were given notification before this season that we can’t have pregame infield, because the field belongs to the promotions people and grounds crew for 30, 35 minutes before the game starts.’’
Ballplayers (especially visitors) are notorious for getting to the park early and having much time to kill. A pregame staple was players coming down to the field in midafternoon for a robust game of “pepper’’:
One batter, several fielders 10-15 feet away in a line, making tosses that the batter would hit back at the players, hopefully on one, hard-to-handle hop. Generally, the punishment for booting the ball was to be sent to the end of line, and farther from the chance to be the batter.
Pepper was the enemy of groundskeepers. The game usually took place behind home plate, beating up the grass. “No Pepper’’ started appearing in paint on the short wall behind the plate — the area now used for advertising.
“I haven’t seen a pepper game in a long time,’’ Twins coach Joe Vavra said. “It’s gone.’’
The Yankees are the lone protectors of this tradition in the major leagues. They held the annual old-timers celebration in the Bronx on June 23 for the 67th time.
The zaniest of Yankees’ old-timers celebrations came on July 29, 1978. Earlier in the month, manager Billy Martin had this to say of star player Reggie Jackson and owner George Steinbrenner: “They deserve each other. One’s a born liar and the other’s convicted.’’
Steinbrenner had been convicted of an illegal campaign contribution to Richard Nixon. The Boss forced Martin’s resignation July 24, and then five days later he had public address legend Bob Sheppard make the surprise announcement during old-timers introductions that Martin would return as manager in 1980.
When Martin came running out of the dugout in his No. 1 uniform … well, I was there, covering the Twins, and it was the loudest 15-minute standing ovation in recorded sports history.
The Twins had occasional old-timers games at Met Stadium, including one July 17, 1976, when the attractions included Lyman Bostock Sr. He had played in the Negro Leagues and his son, Lyman Jr., was a rising Twins star.
The twist was that Lyman Sr. was long estranged from his son. He showed up a couple of times when Lyman Jr. made it to the big leagues, tried to introduce himself and his son said: “I’ve never met you. How do I know who you are?’’
The Lyman Sr. of 1976 had a pot belly that stretched his jersey but also a sweet swing that resulted in a couple of hits.
The Twins’ most recent old-timers promotion was the “Legends Game’’ on Sept. 5, 2011, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first season in Minnesota. If you missed the game, and Kent Hrbek tearing up the turf chasing a pop-up, there’s a chance it is showing on Fox Sports North right now.